Saturday, March 30, 2013


The rural abode in Darwin of agronomist Rob Wesley-Smith is like an international airport , a cavalcade of interesting people coming and going from hither and yon . A  longtime activist  and civil  libertarian , he has contacts and friends in many places, here and overseas . He having fought long and hard for East Timor, it is not surprising that transiting Timorese nuns are accommodated in his troppo designed airy  house, full of  fascinating items,books and extensive files. And he chauffeurs them to and from the airport and takes them on tours. Recently some Frenchmen travelling about Australia in a van stayed with Wes, lodging in his  shipping container for two weeks , and they hit it off.  A storm blew down a tree which blocked the driveway and the visitors hopped in and helped clear it away. In the process, the largest cane toad Wes had ever seen was found and he delivered the coup de grace . Wes made his tools available for the French to make alterations to their van and put them onto a helpful German mechanic . By way of  thanks , the Frenchmen fixed up his washing machine, got a turntable working for the first time in ages so that he could listen to Paul Robeson , and helped in other ways. To mark their time with Wes , one of them, an artist and muso who has written a children's book, provided the  drawing , below, showing Wes ,barefooted  as  usual, with  affectionate  frogs.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Notices have gone up on the Townsville campus of James Cook University in which a person, presumably a student , announces  the  intention to start a Home Brew Society. It is planned to hold regular meetings where members each bring along a couple of bottles to lubricate learned discourse about the ancient and varied science of making your own Kickapoo Juice. It is hoped to launch a Facebook page as well.

On reading this notice, Little Darwin emailed a Victorian friend, journalist Pete Steedman, and asked if he ran a sly grog shop in the l960s when he edited Melbourne uni magazines which drove to drink the Government, ASIO, Liberals, anti-Semites and assorted goose –steppers when he spearheaded the attack on Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War , particularly the conscription of young men to fight in the obscene conflict.

While he tried to flog a motorbike , a car and assorted lively magazines on campus, he did not start a home brew group. He did frequent the well known  Notting Hill Pub in a bid to discover the meaning of life.  However , years later , a son ran a Free Beer Society  at Melbourne University and deliberately helped the Young Liberals , as usual thirsting after power, to either take over the beer group, maybe the student union, or both, with a legally binding contract that they would make funds available to the Free Beer Society, which he and studious drinking mates quickly turned into disappearing liquid assets.

XXXX ALERT : The Little Darwin sweatshop  is brewing up the next exciting chapter in the X-rated Steedman Chronicles serial which will be of interest to the man on the land , ASIO, the KGB  and Tasmanians .

Monday, March 25, 2013


 Author/illustrator/snake handler, Peter  Burleigh , continues his  epic  outback demolition derby on the Kununurra-Top Springs-Dunmarra-Daly Waters–Wollogorang-Hell’s Gate stretch.
My  neighbour  Harry flies in on the 15th and we leave on the 16th. The others head for the bright lights of Darwin (watch them flash red, amber and green) and subsequently to Brisbane. Three of us are left to brave the vicissitudes of the Outback, which is populated by people like Ivan Milat, the Snowtown killers and John Bradley Murdoch. We are aiming to cross through the Gulf country to Normanton.

Life is full of misunderstandings. Boonie proudly produces a new “Companion” brand camping stove in a vibrant lime-green colour. This iridescent hue is probably the South Korean or Taiwanese idea of Australian bush camouflage but to Boonie’s embarrassment it stands out like a white dress at a brothel wedding. Harry, our new team member and normally a diplomatic person, sees the box with the big “Companion” name printed on it (with its catch-phrase “you’re never alone”) and asks Boonie if it contains a blow-up sex doll.

I have complained about being woken up prematurely by slamming car doors, grunts, pots clanging, farting, and booming tenor voices. “I’m looking forward to waking up naturally,” I forcefully tell my two companions, who decide to stay quietly in bed the next morning so I can get my beauty sleep. This is a wonderful opportunity to "wake up naturally" and rest until the body and the mind call me to consciousness with calmness and sensitivity. Of course I wake up at 5.30am.

We speed over sealed roads, lulled by springs working with shock absorbers and eat up the distance. Harry comments on the Droughtmaster cattle: “Good looking cattle. Big shining eyes.” He’s only been in Northern Australian for two days and he’s already talking like a local. New Zealanders are not the only ones with unusual tastes.

Across the NT border we camp in Gregory National Park at Sullivan’s Creek ($3.30/head, with access to snakes, spiders and crocs free of charge). We discuss religion, philosophy, space and time...and alcohol. In fact, the third bottle of wine brings new intellectual revelations to our understanding of these subjects. The people camped nearby send an emissary next morning.“We really enjoyed overhearing your conversation last night,” she says. “Are you guys lawyers?”...“Were we loud?”...“Put it this way, you were quietly shouting.” Calling us lawyers could well be an insult, but we take it as a compliment. If we still made sense after the  second bottle it must have  been  an unusual  discussion.

Following his intellectual examination of the Universe’s navel, Harry decides to dissect a termite mound, or what you might call a termite universe, of which there are 35 million in the immediate vicinity. He delivers a karate kick and peers into the broken top of the mound. The termites have instantly evacuated in the face of this violence, or the destruction of their mound had been predicted by their version of Nostradamus. This makes Harry feel god-like for several moments until he realises there isn’t much glory in  being the deity of termites.


We return to the "town" of Top Springs after an absence of more than four weeks. The same sausages and pies lie comatose in the Bain Marie. They are aging gracefully and their wrinkles could tell a story, but they have been sworn to silence by the manager. They are certainly aging faster than the surrounding countryside. There is nothing new to say about this execrable place except this is where we must rejoin the jokingly-titled "Buchanan Highway" which compared with the Gibb River Road is only a little less dramatically corrugated, probably no more than Julia Gillard’s legs.

Two hundred and fifty jolting kilometres later we reach the Daly Waters Hotel, situated at the end of its own side road off the Stuart Highway. We’re packed cheek-to-buttock with bikies from McKay, Queensland. They drive huge Harleys and Victorys; their exhausts rumble like multiple Krakatoa eruptions. Boonie decides to pitch his tent in the bikie’s enclosure, insisting that they are all “nice, normal people”. They warn him not to. During the night we fear he will be attacked by drug-crazed outlaws and tattooed to within an inch of his life. They run a movie from their support truck and judging by the soundtrack of screams, explosions and orgasmic grunting it wasn’t Mary Poppins. Boonie apparently escapes tattoo-free, but vetoes a full body inspection.

The bar is full and so are the customers. Every night they serve Beef n’ Barra dinners; a big slice of Barra and a piece of rare Scotch Fillet crammed onto a plate. Hey, who’s complaining? And every night a grinning idiot  gets up to tell jokes about poofters, foreigners, lefties and tree-huggers and sings a few C&W favourites dealing with minorities and dusky people.

From  Daly Waters the Carpentaria Highway staggers across to the Savannah Way and the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria, dipping, bridging, fording and bumping though an extraordinary network of wet and dry creeks which drain into the Gulf itself.

There are three famous towns in the vast 1200km width of flat, creek-cut once-tidal plain. The country is utterly flat. The first legendary place we reach is Borroloola. It’s a mess, and not a charming mess; the legend seems to have left town. The Tourist Office is impossible to find because of apocalyptic roadworks, a sudden disappearance of signs and general ignorance of its existence. When we do find it, it’s closed. We must go to the Shire office. Like many places in the region Borroloola claims to be a Barramundi-catching centre, but the girl at the office doesn’t know anybody who can take us out fishing or where  to catch a barra.

We push on into 500km of red dust on the road toward Burketown. There’s a camping symbol on the map at a place named Wollogorang. We aim for that. The road is rough as guts and full of hazards. I spot a dingo at a creek crossing, sitting high on the bank and waiting for us to break down so it can eat us. The pre-sunset shadows slant over the road so you can’t spot the worst of the rocks and holes. A rear tyre whacks a stone with heavy force but the wheel doesn’t fall off. At another river crossing a road train literally has broken in half on its way out of the water; a prime mover towing three tanks of diesel fuel has snapped its linkages. It blocks the road but we get by. The driver says he’s waiting for help, which is expected as soon as tomorrow night. The crunched tanks leak diesel into the dust. The fumes overwhelm everything.

At last we reach Wollogorang. Camping Services Withdrawn, reads a sign. "No Entry. Business closed. Private Property. Keep Out." It’s nearly dark, no time to be driving in your kangaroo magnet on this shit road through impenetrable clouds of dust into holes and crossing creeks you can’t see the bottom of.

Appropriately the next – and only – feature marked on the map is a place called Hell’s Gate, 50km across the Queensland border. We make it after dark. The entirety of the place is a house with a petrol pump outside, surrounded by the rusting hulks of cars and trucks. In the front room looms a hunched woman wearing a beanie . The room is also a store. This is a stocktake of the goods on her shelves: 2 cans of Black and Gold sweet corn, $4 each; Banana Boat Waikiki suntan lotion, one tube, $15.50; 3 cans of Black and Gold beetroot, $4.75 each, one souvenir hat from a Darwin truck stop, $20, and a cat. They call the place a roadhouse. Their rules allow you to camp in a dusty clearing and use a toilet (or is it a shower?) for $20 per car. Faded posters warn of snakes, cane toads and encephalitis. And I thought anarchy put an end to rules.


In the morning I notice a large blister on the side of one of my tyres, the one that hit the rock yesterday. I drove 50km on it on the roughest of roads and am lucky it didn’t blow. Now, of course, I can’t get the damn wheel nuts off. I go to the house and ask a  mechanic for help. He brings a heavy steel spanner down to the noble Pajero, puts it on my recalcitrant wheel nuts and whacks the shit out of it with a hammer. The nuts give in. He is friendly and talkative.

Me Thunderbirds didn’t keep youse awake?”he asks.“Say again?”...“Me Thunderbirds. Had ‘em on. Got ‘em all. Watched ‘em last night. Too loud?”...“No, no,” I say diplomatically, not knowing what to expect from this guy,  “I love the Thunderbirds.” Remember the Thunderbirds, the so-bad-it-was-good sci-fi program using puppets? That was the roaring noise I heard last night.

After jabbing the blister on my tyre he says: “Yer Dunlops aren’t too bad - fuckin’ weak walls though. Weak walls are shit. Ya know so far this year I fixed 23 punctures, 21 of ‘em Coober Tyres? They’re shit, mate, fuckin’ shit.”

Boonie and Harry stare at him in amused disbelief. Making new friends is one of the rewards of travelling in Australia. The bush would be colourless without this guy and others like him.“Other day fuckin’ bloke lost his whole wheel and brake drum. Drum came right off, shot away into the bush, pah-wingg! I come out to help him look fer it but his dickhead mates tramped all up ‘n down the road tryin’ ter find it and messed up the dirt. I mean, when your wheel or brakedrum comes off yer can’t see where it fuckin’ went – yer gotta follow its ‘snail trail’ in the dust, like a frisbee’d make flyin off along the ground. Fuck.”

“You ever find  it?”... “Nah. Made up a wheel for ‘im, used bits and pieces from an old Toyota and a few extra washers and sent the fucker off to Brisbane.”


"Burketown – in the heart of Barra Country." The first time you see a sign like that you believe you’ve arrived somewhere special. After the fifth  time you start putting it  to the test. The  girl at the tourist office gives us a mud map of fishing spots around town. With a bright yellow marker she  indicates the two best.

“This creek corner here by the bottle dump, and this one at the Meat Works.”-“For Barra?”...“Um...well, there’s a lotta crocs at the Meat Works, prob’ly fish too.”Can we rent a boat? we ask, with no  intention of  doing anything of the sort. We’ve done all this before.“, no one does that."No charter operators?“Nah.”..“But...’the heart of Barra Country’?”

She gives us a pitying look. OK, to hell with her. We’ll ask at the pub and get a straight answer. Harry goes into the Burketown Hotel ("Australia’s Greatest Outback Hotel" shouts the sign). Several patrons are breakfasting on Light Beer. Harry comes back shaking his head. “Nothing.”

In the Morning Glory coffee shop, the Filipina woman asks a local fisherman if he’d take us out in his tinny for a price.He answers instantly: “Nup.”The country on the road to Normanton is fuggly; flatter than Audrey Hepburn’s chest and dotted with sparse stubbly grass, spindly trees and cracked soil like grey ash. To my surprise beautiful grey Brolgas with red faces regularly wander across the road. I thought Brolgas were white; maybe these are Brolga Nomads.

Normanton itself is smaller than expected - 1500 people – and also claims to be the Epicentre of the Barramundi Universe. A brochure says "Fishing is one of the most popular activities in town." We see no supporting evidence of this. No boats in driveways, no ads for fishing charters in the local rag, and so on. Obviously all Normanton’s entrepreneurs have gone east or there’s been a purge.

Several well-preserved buildings line the street. The place has charm in abundance but no bloody Barra. The Gulflander Train is housed here at a cute station covered in old advertising signs and pot plants. We go to see it, but the train’s out on a picnic run. Today’s Friday. Every Wednesday it goes 150km to the end of its line at Croydon and back again, no doubt taking excited Grey Nomads to see Croydon’s main attraction, described as "the remnants of the Southern Hemisphere’s second-largest pig."

A young mother wheels her child around in a stroller and pauses to pick up a dropped toy. It’s a full size, accurate rubber replica of a snake, so lifelike my trigger finger itches. The child hugs it. What is this kid learning?

Our final destination on the coast is Karumba, a tiny town tucked hard into the south-east corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York. An acquaintance phoned me from there many months ago. He said Mexicans must have named it. He said it is a terrific little fishing village. We decide to ignore any signs with the words "Gateway", "Centre of ...", "Heart of..." and "Genuine Outback..." and go for it, not stopping until we get there.  NEXT : Quaint Gulf  towns ,  more  Grey  Nomads and elusive  barramundi .


The recent unprecedented high blood pressure reading of this scribe -205-must surely be due to the thousand and one delights experienced at the James Cook University library . Each  time I enter the distinctively designed building my heart begins to flutter as I know I am in for another exciting , productive bout of discovery. Last year and in recent months I imbedded myself in the Special Collections section from time to time to peruse  the personal papers of extraordinary  activist , Kiwi  author Jean Devanny , who died in  Townsville  on  International Women's Day  1962. 

The urge to shout Eureka! with great frequency was stifled as Devanny’s boxes yielded  new leads, insights and information about many interesting people and events  I  have been researching for years. When you read that Devanny’s daughter , Pat , studying music in Russia, was allowed to actually play Tchaikovsky’s own piano and met the man who ordered the execution of the Russian royal family in the basement  at Yekaterinburg on July 17,l918 , one’s pulse tends to  accelerate like a V8.

One day , during a luncheon break from Special Collections , I had a quick meal in the refectory , then headed to the Australian Literature section in the student library , again full of great expectations. My hands shook and I muttered a silent , uncouth oath , not wanting to shock diligent , clean- cut students in nearby cubicles , when I came across a sunned , slim volume of poems , NO ASTERISKS, by Max Dunn.

Inside was the handwritten name of the previous owner – KENNETH SLESSOR , (1901-1971), journalist , editor , war correspondent , bon vivant, Sydney Journalists’ Club president , one of the nation’s finest poets , held in high regard overseas. An acclaimed work , the elegy Five Bells, prompted by the drowning of a friend, Melbourne Punch black – and- white artist Joe Lynch , in Sydney Harbour on the night of May 14,1927 , inspired artist John Olsen when he was commissioned for $35,000 to produce a large mural for the Sydney Opera House ,which he called Five Bells .

My interest in Slessor is due to the fact that when I was a copyboy on the The Sun, Sydney, in the l950s, he was a leader writer and reviewer on the paper . Always dapper, he was held in high regard . Eloquent , with blue eyes and the pallid, pinkish appearance of an albino , he stood out . Often , he stood with hands clasped behind his back , like a headmaster , when talking to a person . Alexander Macdonald , with impish, expressive, large eyes and a bowtie , in his autobiography The Ukelele Player under the Red Lamp, said that Slessor rarely ventured onto a beach , but when he did he was swathed from head to foot against sunburn in white towelling –like an upright Moby Dick.

From time to time , I delivered mail, galley proofs and other items to Slessor’s office, always receiving a polite thank you. I could not help notice that he liked roasted peanuts in a shell, as he often  was seen shelling away while reading . Frequently, he had a lengthy luncheon break at the nearby Journalists ’ Club, then in Phillip Street , where one of his many associates was caricaturist Tony Rafty [ whose life has been covered in Little Darwin] , also a war correspondent , who arranged for me to enter journalism. While making deliveries to Slessor’s office on two occasions I found him sound asleep, his head in a mound of peanut shells scattered across the desk, reading glasses pushed up on his forehead .

Slessor presided over a small group , the Condiment Club , which during the 1960s met , consumed fine wine and tucker, and discussed a wide variety of topics, laughter served up in great quantities. A member , big Bill Grill , was the chief sub editor of the Fairfax Sun-Herald newspaper when I was employed there . Grill had an aversion to ”dirty bastards” who did not wash their hands after going to the toilet , thus spreading all kinds of germs via the door handle . Whenever he went to the toilet , he washed his hands thoroughly as if scrubbing up to perform heart surgery , wiped them with a large piece of paper , tore another large piece of paper from the dispenser and then , using it like a glove, yanked open the door , stepped quickly outside , turned , and threw the paper back inside so that it fell to floor. His father had  died  when an apartment building caught fire.   Grill lived in a flat up near Darlinghurst and it was said he had a length of rope tied to the foot of his bed so that in the event of fire he could escape out a window .

I knew Slessor’s son , Paul , when we both worked as reporters on the Sydney Morning Herald , and at his invitation bought from a dark and aromatic pad he was sharing in the Eastern Suburbs some Indonesian oddities, including a lengthy priest’s necklace made from carved coconut shells , subsequently blown away in Cyclone Tracy.

It is interesting to note that Slessor’s father –Robert Schloesser- a mining engineer , was actually in Townsville in l889 and went out to Charters Towers to see the gold mines .

During WW11 Kenneth Slessor was appointed Australian Commonwealth War Correspondent ; he was not impressed by Winston Churchill , assorted British military wallahs , the Australian Army chief ,General Blamey , and the Australian Director-General of Information, Edmund Bonney , whose bookplate, from the Little Darwin kitbag of ephemera, appears  left

Also in the kitbag is a bundle of WW 11 movie programmes for cinemas attended by Australian troops in Palestine , Blamey allegedly receiving a substantial kickback from the proprietors , explained in detail to Slessor by the renowned war correspondent , Chester Wilmot ,author of The Struggle for Europe [See P235 of Geoffrey Dutton’s biography, Kenneth Slessor ,Viking, 1991.] At one stage a scrapbook of Slessor poems illustrated by Virgil Reilly , from Smith’s Weekly ,edited by Slessor, came my way. Virgil, a hunchback, drew attractive girls , often in slinky poses , and the series was later turned into a book, Darlinghurst Nights ( see below ) and Backless Betty of Bondi.

Diverse items of interest related to The Triad , a magazine in which Slessor was published when he was a teenager, were found in bookshops in Kiwiland and Melbourne and will feature in a special Little Darwin article about the magazine .


Slessor was a bibliophile and amassed a large and impressive collection. His aforementioned comrade, Alexander Macdonald , wrote that Slessor ‘s love of books was such that he would stroke and fondle them, as if they were fine, fragile art treasures. [Which they are.] So in the Townsville University is a book , undoubtedly others , which have been caressed by the esteemed Australian bard; other volumes by Max Dunn in the collection include a limited edition presentation copy to Slessor .

In a dining room which sported many tall bookcases, Kenneth Slessor entertained a select group of friends . The Kiwi poet and editor of the Sydney  Bulletin’s Red Page for 20 years, Douglas Stewart , wrote A MAN OF SYDNEY An appreciation of Kenneth Slessor , Nelson, 1977 , and covered those grand dinner parties. Invited guests included author Cyril Pearl, Alexander Macdonald , author Kylie Tennant and a Scottish-Australian poet named Alan Riddell - "sometimes accompanied by a most voluptuous young girlfriend , who seemed to have seven or eight legs like an octopus ,sinuously emerging from her mini-skirt." [Imagine the impact on the blood pressure -male and female - of  those assembled .]

I have an appointment to see a sporting Irish doctor about my blood pressure and other matters... hope he does not declare the James Cook Library and its Special Collections out of bounds . - (Peter Simon)

Monday, March 18, 2013


Showing signs of exhaustion, this crack team of crime scene commercial cleaners - all skilled 457 Visa workers-is helping Australian Conservative politicians to quickly expunge evidence of serial blood letting in the ranks of those who believe they are born to rule .

Inspired by the Channel 10 Mr and Mrs Murder series, starring Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart , the Liberals and Nationals engaged the team of experts to quickly clean up after frequent homicides, garrotings and stabbings at party meetings. In recent months Conservative party rooms have often resembled a Jack- the- Ripper murder scene , blood , guts , torn elastic, half eaten pork pies and penny gin ruining plush axminster carpets.

Just last week the tired chimps were flown to Darwin in a mining company private jet to clean up after multiple murders , brawls and mud-slinging in the Country Liberal Party revolving and rotating government . The CLP murder scene was likened to the gory Battle of 1066 when Harold got an arrow in the eye . Struggling Chief Minister Terry Mills , poked in the eye several times by his colleagues, was eventually killed off  by rockets fired from  a  drone operated from  the  top secret Pine Gap space base , while he was  nibbling sushi  during a business trip to Tokyo. The hard working team of monkeys is allegedly not paid peanuts , which is hard to believe, and is certain to be investigated by Fair Work Australia , the AWU, CFMEU and the RSPCA.

In Queensland , the Black Hand Gang has been actively bumping off LNP members and close associates with great regularity. It is understood that Colgate Kid, Peter Costello, has been advised to wear John Howard’s old flak jacket should he ever set foot  in Queensland again with further great advice for the Newman Government , following delivery of his bumper guide to flogging off the rest of the state , which caused angry wage slaves to take to the streets brandishing sharp scimitars

Recently the true blue Victorian Liberal , Big Ted, was given the Chopper Read treatment by a bunch of buddies wielding samurai swords , his aristocratic blood spraying over parliamentary surrounds . Down in Adelaide, a former Liberal Party leader committed hara-kiri ; former Federal minister Alexander Downer was asked to clean up the bloody mess ; he , reportedly , was keen to do the Liberal housework , but his wife refused to give him the squeegee mop.

Channel 10 carpet strollers , who frequently end up on a slab in a morgue themselves , are naturally delighted  and surprised that anybody is taking notice of the station’s television shows.

A Coalition spin doctor, Hector Bombast , admitted the silent simian spring cleaning squad is helping to prevent the public- their brains reduced to mush by the daily media coverage of the latest in handbags, cookery shows , and the ranting of shock jocks- from realising that the Tories are in  a  worse bloody mess than the ALP. Bombast said the murder scene monkeys would be badly in need of a change in career after all the stressful work in the NT, expected to last for at least three years , and would be strongly recommended  to mining magnate Clive Palmer as stewards aboard his made in China Titanic 11.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


The death has been reported of  Dr Harry Medlin , a former Senior Deputy Chancellor of the University of Adelaide (1984-1997), who played a key part in getting Nobel Prize writer Patrick White’s play , The Ham Funeral, controversially rejected for the 1962 Festival of Arts by a conservative board of governors, presented in the Union Hall by the university’s Theatre Guild. Dr Medlin was chairman of the Theatre Guild at the time and the production was widely acclaimed ; White was so pleased , he entrusted the Theatre Guild with world premiere performances of his subsequent plays , The Season at Sarsaparilla (1962), and Night On Bald Mountain (1964).

A commando captured by the Japanese in East Timor , Medlin spent years in a POW camp and was debriefed by Army Intelligence Officer Harry Wesley-Smith for depositions for the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. The two Harrys became close friends for 40 years . In his position as Guidance Officer to ex- service students, Wesley-Smith encouraged Medlin to take a university course in l946 at Adelaide . Medlin became a highly regarded university teacher in the Department of Physics, and as an administrator. Between them, the two Harrys had a big impact on the university , Wesley-Smith taking great interest in overseas students in general and Asian students in particular... Said Dr Medlin : " We [ ex- service men and women] brought to university life a new dimension; we doubled the student population; we respected education not only for what it offered but also for its own sake; we did not necessarily respect many of its quaint practices; we turned the place upside down and in more ways than one. Without the wise advice of Harry Wesley-Smith, operating I am sure in both directions, the whole exercise could well have been a disaster. Both sides came to co-exist and to their mutual benefit. It was the greatest social upheaval to date in the history of Australian universities. Harry wrote a paper on those experiences, and that paper should be recovered, even if only because he established that the academic records of the ex-service students were significantly superior to those of their younger student colleagues; and there is a lesson in there yet to be comprehended and learnt by educators.”

In l984 , Dr Medlin delivered the eulogy at his comrade’s funeral. He recalled that in l980 Dr Wesley-Smith chose to speak on the subject of "The educated person,"stressing the importance of universities for the good health of the community. He also affirmed his unwavering support of the thesis that while a university is accountable to the community it must nevertheless be free to conduct its own affairs in the way it judges to be best. Dr Wesley-Smith had then cited Bertrand Russell who said the qualities of "a reasonable scepticism", "rationality", "modesty", and "fairmindedness" were marks of an educated person. This intellectual prowess, he said , had to be coupled with the need for integrity, compassion and a social conscience.

A Vietnamese student barely able to express himself in English told Dr Medlin he was concerned about his brother who had been detained in Malaysia .  Medlin promptly contacted the Australian Minister for Immigration , about to visit Malaysia at  the time, and secured his release in a short space of time, enabling him to come to Australia .

In 2010 , Dr Medlin took part in a protest at the University of Adelaide over the plan to demolish the Union Hall , where White's plays  had been  performed, to make way for a $77million science precinct, saying the planned destruction was a disgrace, more of a corporate than a collegiate decision . Over the years, Dr Medlin had been a strong supporter of East Timor and amassed a large library dealing with Asia.

Friday, March 8, 2013

TEEMING ASIAN MASSES INTENDED FOR AUSTRALASIA-Continuing biography of NT crusading editor,”Big Jim “ Bowditch.

Production of the new paper in Darwin in l952 and certain published statements  about Australia's  northern neighbours  were  noticed  in  Indonesia , resulting in  a strange letter arriving addressed to both the editor of the NT News and  Doug Lockwood of the Melbourne Herald group of newspapers,  who was based in Darwin. The sender was C.A.Rebeira,F.B.S.C., F.C.I., F.I.P.S., a Ceylonese resident in Indonesia for 43 years, who describing himself as a company director and adviser to many business and industrial concerns. He had read in a Jakarta newspaper about the birth of the NT News . While wishing the newspaper success and saying he was not anti-Australian , he warned that Australia was denying God’s will that the “surplus population ” of China,India, Japan and Pakistan should occupy the country . Australians, he said, had tried to wipe out Aborigines, driving them inland and hunting them like wild dogs.

Now Australia and New Zealand, with so much vacant land, feared being invaded by Asia . In the NT alone there was 550,000 square miles of vacant good land , which the Asian races could turn into a bountiful area . Directing remarks to Lockwoood’smistaken idea” , he referred to a newspaper article in the Melbourne Herald in which it was said 70 million Indonesians were “staring ” at the empty land in North Australia .

Rebeira declared there was no need for empty Australian land because the Indonesian Republic was now dispersing its population which had been bottled up under the Dutch . Australia , he said, had sided with the Dutch in the dispute over Dutch New Guinea . Reports about Indonesians wanting to overrun Australia were nonsense and imaginative falsehoods. He had written to the Australian politicians Arthur Calwell and Kent Hughes outlining his views.

World affairs at the time, he continued, were being wrongly handled because Great Britain was no longer able to exercise its influence, which she had done for centuries ,steering the people “ in the right way” . All the evils taking place in the world would “ boomerang ” a hundred times on the heads of those who created them . [This  letter was kindly supplied from the extensive files of Kiwi author and journalist ,Ross Annabell.]
The second edition of the NT News carried some disturbing information : the local brewery was up for auction under instructions from the mortgagee . With 97 1/2 years to run on its lease, the fully equipped brewery came complete with stocks of malt, hops, syrups and cordials. There was also an odd item in the same paper which had the suspicous earmarks of a quick beat up to fill a hole. It reported that a gorilla had been sighted near Auckland, New Zealand. A person who made use of the advertising columns was Jessie Litchfield of Roberta Library , grandmother of former NT Chief Minister , Marshall Perron .

Much was made of the claim  that the News was owned by locals. In fact, the shots were called from Sydney through Eric White and Don Whitington. A regular part of the News was a front page column called True North which usually contained bright , short items. It is thought that Whitington might have been responsible for naming the column which ran for decades. Whitington was obviously a man with a sense of humour as he once listed his hobbies in Who’s Who as watching birds , carousing and Australian Rules Football. He had an arrangement with  the airline company ,TAA , whereby he would fly up from Sydney to Darwin and write articles for the airline’s magazine and other publications. At times he visited Alice and spoke to Bowditch , the two “ hitting it off.Whitington advised Bowditch to move on from Alice because the place was too small for a man with his talent. NEXT : Bowditch  the talk of  the town in Alice Springs and  is there truth in the news ? .


Balibó House Trust and director Robert Connolly invite you to celebrate the Trust’s 10th birthday with an exclusive screening of Robert’s film “Underground – the Julian Assange Story” at the Palace Cinemas, Brighton Bay, Victoria, at 4pm on March 24 . Robert will be attending the screening along with lead actor Alex Williams for a Q&A session following the screening and all guests will also receive a DVD package . Balibó House Trust works to honour the memories of the Balibó Five by enriching the lives and livelihoods of the Balibó people; proceeds from the screening will support education and community development in Balibó.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


(WARNING : Delicate  men  desirous of female company may develop a touch of the vapours on  reading this ditty.)

The  admirable Special Collections section at Townsville’s James Cook University library has  two editions of a rare novel ( above ) with an intriguing title : WINNING A WIFE IN AUSTRALIA A Story drawn on Actual Experiences and Illustrative of Life in the Present Day Antipodes, by A. Donnison , published by Ward, Lock and  Bowden , London , New York and Melbourne , in the 1890s.

One copy has a frontispiece by Geo Hutchinson, dated 1894 , which portrays a terrified girl, hatless, perhaps even riding side saddle , on a galloping horse , stretched out like Black Caviar , pursued by a man –apparently a dastardly striking Queensland shearer - on another steed.

The author informs the reader that Australian life is full of activity that belongs to an untrammelled race ... In l891 , he wrote , Australia’s human population was only four million , on the other hand , sheep numbered some 100,000,000 and we were just about up to our armpits in wool bales , going on the export statistics. It would appear that the industrial unrest in various parts of the nation in the 1890s and the great shearers’ strikes which led to the birth of the Australian Labour Party is reflected in this novel as part of the action takes part on a sheep station out west of Rockhampton.

The novel opens with one Arthur Ogilvy strolling along Circular Quay, Sydney, where the ferries ply their trade. Enter la femme , she slips, drops a package into the harbour .  Gallant Arthur ,who is carrying an umbrella in sunny Sydney, perhaps having recently arrived from the Old Dart , where the weather is notoriously bad, fishes out the package with the brolly, she thanks the kind sir. This could be the beginning of a grand romance under the Southern Cross, you would think. The Sydney Morning Herald office  is nearby ... an ideal place in which to announce an engagement if this sloppy first encounter progresses towards matrimony, a win-win situation for both parties .

The title page of the above mentioned edition bears another illustration  which , strangely, shows a gentleman in frock coat, holding a bowler hat , in an art gallery , seated on a chair , deeply engrossed in a painting, as if the alluring Mona Lisa . A buttoned up demure female , wearing a hat and also carrying an umbrella , seems to be eyeing this odd bod who is mesmerised by the mysterious painting . A pointer to a page deep within the text reveals that the man was none other than Arthur Ogilvy who had been promenading along the waterfront in the opening scene. It says the painting had plunged him into some kind of mysterious ” reverie.”

The woman in the gallery  turns out to be the artist who did the painting ; Arthur , tears himself away from the entrancing picture, they lock eyes  and it seems they both recognise each other , perhaps from that episode on the waterfront in the opening of the book, years ago.

What happens next in the plot would defy even the fertile mind of Jackie Collins to dream up. The woman, identified as Claire , tells obviously besotted Arthur that she is married , but it is not a marriage made in Heaven. She is unhappy. On receiving this information , Arthur , believe it or not, FAINTS ! Yes, his droopy moustache swinging in the breeze, Arthur limp falls like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers . Is this Artie chap some kind of sook , a fop or a mummy’s boy? Eventually , he comes to and reveals that he is really a man of action as he suggest she get a divorce ! Strong stuff for those days-what would the vicar say?

At this stage ,the plot is a bit unclear , a few other women become involved, and it is not absolutely certain  if it is the highly desirable Claire – inconveniently hitched to a bloke called Jack - who gets a telegram to go out west of Rockhampton to help run daddy’s sheep station.

Exciting chapters in the book  have headings such as : A brisk gallopA kangaroo at bay; Half married ; In the hospital; Squatters’ troubles ; Her ride for honour and The nymph abandoned, the latter sounding like the Perils of Pauline . Without revealing too much more of  this little known , epic Australian classic , there is the aforementioned chase on horseback , police lumbering striking sheep shearers, many of them drunk. As to whether or not Claire and Arthur fall victim to Cupid’s arrows and enter a state of wedded bliss , you will have to wait for the TV adaptation , probably screened after Underbelly finishes in 2018.

Both editions of the book perused by Little Darwin’s wandering oddity roundsman at the university announced another book uniform with this work was AUSTRALIAN MILLIONAIRE , by Mrs A. Blitz . Just imagine how wonderful it would be if you could win the hand of an Aussie girl whose daddy was a millionaire sheep farmer who also owned the Koala Bear Brewery , the fantasy of many a modern Australian lad with aspirations  above his station.

One copy of this memorable read , in the Colonial Library series, has an early Australian coat of arms on the back cover; scattered throughout is the stamp of the Ardmona Fruit Growers’ Institute Free Library.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


The  purchase of  books  and  journals  dealing with early New Guinea has provided  the possible source of a New Zealand family’s reference to breast milk as susu. My New Zealander wife and  female relatives over the years  referred to  susu milk- breast milk- without knowing the origin of  the term.

Our children were brought up on “susu milk ”. However, one of the  buys- PIDGINS AND TOK PISIN -Occasional Paper No. 1 of the Papua New Guinea Department of Language, l975, edited by John Lynch, 42pp, includes appendices listing common Pidgin English terms , one being susu for milk dairy cattle being “ kau susu”, and the expression for milking , “ kisim susu”. [Condensed milk became known as  strongpela susu. ]

My wife’s Aunty Lu, short for Louise , was married in l905 to adventurous Englishman , Richard Alexander Meek , in New Britain , New Guinea. We have a photograph of their wedding . The story goes that Richard fell in love with Lu Wernham  when he saw her sewing on the verandah at her widowed mother’s house in Auckland. It  is now surmised that she may have picked up the expression susu  when she was in New Guinea, and used it when talking to  family members after she returned to Auckland, the  term used within the group until its origin was lost with the effluxion of  time.

Her husband came to Australia with his parents , his mother Spanish, and moved to Sydney . He had  a varied career as a travelling photographer, gold prospector, shepherd on a sheep station, boundary rider during the 1890 drought. He volunteered for the Boer War in  South Africa . Then he went to New Guinea , apparently spending time in German New Guinea as a trader, at times going  as long as nine months without seeing  another European , according to his obituary. His parents and other members  of  the  large family  had  moved  to  Kiwiland.

 The Meeks  returned to Auckland in l909 and Richard  volunteered for service in New Guinea during WW1. Obviously an enterprising businessman, he was a clothing manufacturer for 11 years , made a trip to England in l920 , bought property in the Auckland central business area and was a member of the Takapuna Boating Club for many years . He died in July 1929, aged 61.